"I Feel the Most Alive I've Ever Felt and For that I am Grateful" - Roxana Lopez

My faith has grown stronger through my cancer journey.” - Roxana Lopez

Roxana Lopez was diagnosed with Stage 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in August 2015 at 25 years old. A week after her diagnosis, she met with a genetic counselor at MD Anderson for genetic testing and learned that she was BRCA positive. Her twin sister and two older brothers have also tested positive for the same mutation.

MK: What was your mindset at diagnosis?

RL: I felt a sense of grief. I also felt a sense of betrayal from my body. I felt completely fine and healthy, yet there was the possibility that this was not the case. I cried more in the car as I drove to work. I called my sister and we cried together. Although at times I feel worried as I think about the implications that the BRCA1 mutation has on my health and my family’s health, I have learned to find reassurance in my faith.

MK: How did your breast cancer diagnosis/testing positive for BRCA1 change your life?

RL: I have learned to live in the moment. I am also able to see things clearer and see the blessings in my every day. The strong support from my family and friends has made me appreciate them more and realize how blessed I am to have them. My family support filled me with so much love that there was little space left for me to feel scared or angry about my diagnosis, I mostly felt peace.

I also feel more connected to my mom. My mom was diagnosed with Stage 2 Triple Negative Breast Cancer at 47 years old. She passed away when I was 17 years old, after a four-year battle in which the cancer metastasized. I was younger when she was going through treatments and was devastated with her death. Because I was young, she didn’t discuss her doctor treatments and I rarely remember her complain about symptoms. The strength she showed while receiving treatments and at the same time working has inspired me. Her memory continues to inspire me to keep moving forward.

Sometimes when I think about the BRCA1 mutation, I feel like a ticking time bomb. However, I choose not to let fear overwhelm me but focus on aspects of my health that I can control and a purpose in life of helping others going through a similar experience.

When I think about my cancer journey, I think of it as the beginning of a second opportunity and as a fresh new perspective on life.

MK: What do you wish you'd know before being diagnosed/testing positive with breast cancer?

RL: I wish that I had been informed about the BRCA mutation and sought genetic counseling before my diagnosis, or perhaps it could have been detected at an earlier stage that would not have required chemotherapy and the lasting side-effects that come along with it. I would tell others who have a family history of cancer to become informed about their risks, consider genetic counseling if indicated, maintain screening and don’t put it off.

MK: How has this experience awakened you to yourself and your purpose?

RL: Three months after completing seven months of chemo and a bilateral mastectomy, I began nursing school as had been my plan before my diagnosis. My cancer experience has filled me with an even greater desire to help those who have gone through a similar journey. I hope to return to MD Anderson and work as a clinical nurse after graduating this December to help patients in their own cancer journey.

MK: Tell me about your advocacy work.

RL: I recently became a volunteer with MD Anderson’s myCancerConnection after using its services. My sister and I were seeking more information in preparation for our mastectomies and were interested in connecting with women who had already gone through the process. We were grateful for the volunteers who were willing to share their experience and give us insight to what we could expect. Volunteering with myCancerConnection, we give other patients encouragement and hope.

MK: What word do you wish you could take out of the breast cancer vocabulary?

RL: When I shared my diagnosis with my coworkers, a coworker told me “Oh breast cancer is easy, you’ll be ok!” I know that she was trying to make me feel better but it surprised me to hear that anyone would think that any cancer is “easy.” But, it is not easy. There are so many lasting physical and emotional changes that can be impacting their current everyday life, even years after treatment is over. .

MK: If there was one thing you could change about breast cancer and how people view it, what would that be?

RL: I would like to see more awareness among young women that breast cancer can happen at an early age. It is important for young women to know about self-exams and screening.

MK: What would you tell a newly diagnosed young woman?

RL: I would tell a newly diagnosed woman that although you could have never imagined that you would become a breast cancer patient and survivor, know that you will also gain many other amazing roles that you probably would have never thought you would hold such as healthcare partner, volunteer and advocate. You will become stronger. Allow yourself to go through the emotions of grief, anger and let it feed your desire to move forward. Live in the present and appreciate every moment. Also, don’t let fear or anxiety overwhelm you. Remember to breathe. Reflect on all the positive things in your life. By doing so along with faith and prayer, I was able to grow spiritually from this experience. Accept the help. Surround yourself with positive people.

MK: What one word defines you?

RL: Faith.

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